Saturday, September 19, 2009

The One Intolerable Deal-Breaker Is Quitting

  • If the players quit, the manager has to go:
Although I don't think he's a very good strategic manager, the one attribute that Texas Rangers manager Ron Washington has could be the most important one for any manager anywhere----his players never quit on him. Even when he was literally hours away from being fired in early 2008 and only saved by an accident of circumstances and an unforeseen hot streak, the players never stopped playing; never acted as if they were trying to get their manager fired or behaved as if they didn't care one way or the other. Washington's still the Rangers manager and is a legitimate candidate for Manager of the Year for no other reason than the players continued to play for him. It's certainly not because of strategic acumen.
This is why it's so disturbing when players from teams that have fallen out of contention----the Blue Jays, Rays and Mets----look like they've accepted their fate and gone home. That falls on the managers and is an intolerable circumstance that cannot be ignored by ownership.
The Blue Jays are currently a lost cause and unless they dispatch GM J.P. Ricciardi once and for all, nothing will change no matter who's managing the team. The Rays have just doled a contract extension on Joe Maddon, so he's not going anywhere. Then there are the Mets.
The injury excuse for this catastrophic season is real. On paper, no matter who the manager was, the intended team would've won 95 games. The entire club hasn't just been decimated by injuries, it's been demolished by them. That's no one's fault; but what's happened over the past month falls under the jurisdiction of the manager. Jerry Manuel has not gotten the remaining players to play with the requisite passion past the bare minimum to keep up appearances. They make their half-hearted comebacks; they fight briefly when playing a team that is in contention; then fold when pushed back. This has been a Mets issue going back to 2007. And it's enough.
The Mets are no longer in a swoon. They're in a full-fledged plummet and acting as if it's okay because of those injuries. It's true that they don't have the talent to compete with the Phillies, Marlins and Braves on a realistic level. But the Nationals? Falling behind 6-2 before a couple of ninth inning walks and an error opened the door for them to cut the deficit to 6-5, and then losing with the now-familiar Charlie Brown look of forlorn resignation that's exemplified 2007 and 2008 during their stumbles out of the playoffs and now this meteoric drop to 90+ losses?
I can tolerate the losing.
I can live with the mental mistakes from players who are interchangeable and don't have a long term future with the franchise anyway.
I can even live with the sense of resignation for a lost season.
But I can't tolerate the apathy. Aside from David Wright, Jeff Francoeur, Carlos Beltran and a couple of the rookies trying to secure jobs, most of the roster seems to have an "oh, whatever" attitude. They're getting paid; they're finishing out the string, so if they lose they lose; what's the difference between 88 losses and 94 losses?
Well, there's a difference.
There's a difference in the way the club is perceived as the season ends in the minds of baseball people; in the eyes of the media; and with the fans. In 2007 and 2008, the Mets were undone by a Marlins team that had fallen from contention or wasn't contending at all. That Marlins team took great pleasure in beating both the Mets and Phillies not because it improved their status in any significant way, but because that's what they were supposed to be doing for the sake of competition. The Reds in recent weeks have beaten up on contenders, severely damaging the Braves playoff hopes with a three-game sweep at Turner Field. The Padres have played very hard in beating teams with a chance at the post-season.
The Mets?
At least they've been an equal opportunity punching bag. They've been brutalized by the Marlins, Phillies and Braves over the past week and last night, the Nationals took their turn.
I've seen and heard enough.
They need to do something drastic after this season. And that drastic move is to re-hire Bobby Valentine.
The Mets mattered when Valentine was the manager. Valentine was always ready, willing and able to engage and confront anyone and everyone and he was the best strategic manager in baseball with an eye for talent that others didn't understand or appreciate. GM Omar Minaya is likely keeping his job for two reasons: 1) he has a contract kicking in starting next year; and 2) he's not at fault for the rash of injuries. There's a reluctance to blame Manuel because he's likable, charming and held the team above water as one player after another dropped and disappeared; but who's responsible for the way the team has decided to expedite the season's end, playing passionless and uninspired baseball? The team's gone home for the winter. And it's enough.
Instead of bringing in a load of new, expensive players; trying desperately to placate an enraged fan base with caveats of injuries, bad luck and mistakes and promises to do better, the Mets need a new direction and that direction happens to be an old one with their former manager. Valentine is close with Minaya, would electrify the fan base and would not tolerate the nonsense that's gone on over the past month. If the Mets want to drop a bomb without blowing the entire foundation up, Valentine's the way to do it.
This madness ends now.
  • The Tigers are a better match for the Yankees than the Twins:
Much like in 2006 when they led their division for the entire season, the Tigers are staggering toward the finish line. The difference is that the Twins caught them, took the AL Central division and the Tigers still had the Wild Card to fall back on. In what appeared to be the ultimate indignity, not only did a final weekend beating at the hands of the Royals cost the Tigers the division that year, it sentenced them to face the Yankees in the ALDS in a matchup that most (me included) expected to be a three game sweep for the Yankees. Instead, the Tigers stunned the Yankees in four games and went all the way to the World Series.
Now, with last night's 3-0 win, the Twins have climbed to within three games of the Tigers with two weeks remaining in the regular season. If the Twins sweep, it's a toss-up the rest of the way with a four game series in Detroit beginning on September 28th likely determining the outcome. But which team would be a bigger threat for the likely first round clash with the Yankees?
Even though the Yankees record against the two teams combined this season is 12-1, the Tigers present a bigger challenge than the Twins do. The Tigers have the starting pitching to match up evenly with a Yankee team that doesn't know what they're going to get from the starting pitchers behind C.C. Sabathia. Justin Verlander is at least an even money shot against Sabathia; Edwin Jackson's far more trustworthy at this point than A.J. Burnett; and Andy Pettitte's shoulder is "tired". Tigers manager Jim Leyland wouldn't trust playoff games to his bullpen in its current state and if the Yankees find themselves in a prolonged wrestling match with the Tigers, they could be in serious trouble.
The Twins?
The Yankees have habitually found new and creative ways to abuse the Twins on an annual basis. They've routinely beaten on them in the playoffs and without the injured Justin Morneau, Joe Mauer will not see one pitch to hit throughout an entire series. The Twins starting pitching gives up too many runs and homers to be able to hang with the Yankees, mitigating a strong bullpen and any chance of a starting pitching meltdown for the Yankees. The Twins can't get into a slugfest with the Yankees and win.
It's always dangerous for a team to have a rooting interest for a potential playoff opponent----that's blown up in teams' faces more than once; but if the Yankees are paying attention and have concerns heading into the playoffs (as they should), they'd better be quietly wearing their "good luck Twins" underwear because that's the team they'd undoubtedly prefer to play.
  • Cardinals 3-Cubs 2:
Does Aaron Heilman need to be sedated when he sees Cardinal red yet?
  • Genius is fleeting and flexible:
Is Billy Beane heading back to "genius" status because the Athletics have played so well lately in making this lost season somewhat respectable and gotten to within nine games of .500? I wonder. Get the Moneyball movie back on track!!!

1 comment:

Jeff said...

When Heilman comes in a game to pitch against the Redbirds, we (Cardinal fans) get a great big communal hard-on, much like we did when LaTroy Hawkins was blowing games for the Cubs back in the day.